Elizabeth Warren’s Two-Income Trap

NElizabeth-Warren-Sheriffew Orleans With the passage of Dodd-Frank and the advent of the coming Consumer Protection Finance Agency there was a huge hubbub from business and others opposing the appointment of Harvard Law Professor and bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren to run the agency.  Supposedly she was opposed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the bank bailout Wall Street buddy-boy, which made me like her in a kneejerk sort of way:  anyone who was his enemy was surely my friend!  She had a hardscrabble personal story that started in red dirt Oklahoma with a father pushed over the financial edge, and knowing that country also biased me towards her, even though her being at Harvard stuck in my craw.  All of that is over now.  I read the book she wrote with her daughter, Amelia Tyagi, called The Two-Income Trap:  Why Middle-Class Mothers & Fathers are Going Broke, and now I’ve gotten my head together on the true facts and her core arguments, and I totally get it.  Count me as a fan!

I also get why so many were lined up against her:  first, she’s an equal-opportunity offender zinging left, right and in-between on the issues whether banks or unions, and, secondly, she’s an iconoclastic feminist arguing a totally womanist line with women and children in front, but questioning the normally unchallenged assumptions about women in the workplace.  That’s a deadly set of variables for any political calculation.  No doubt she only got this far because most people – like me! – didn’t ever bother to read the book!

Some examples:

  • She zings Citibank before the meltdown for an average mortgage interest rate of about 17% and in a tell-all story relates the tale of a one-day consulting gig she did for them about bankruptcy and families in which she argued that Citi should simply not lend to people overstretched, and a senior executive dismissed the entire argument because jacking the overextended with more products and predatory interest rates was essentially their golden goose and business model.
  • She tells a moving story of a meeting with Hilary Clinton as a former First Lady and how quickly Clinton got the importance of opposing the passage of a proposed new corporate-backed bankruptcy law and committed her support to the fight, but then once elected as a U.S. Senator from New York, turned around completely to support her new constituency on Wall Street rather than women.  She everything but says that Clinton and senior Senator Chuck Schumer were bought and paid for by campaign contributions.
  • She comes out for universal school vouchers and total school choice for good reasons perhaps, but based on the fuzziest of political and economic premises about what would really create “equity” in school offerings, all of which must have driven the teacher unions up a wall.

Generally she drives the hammer hard on the nail.

Over-consumption is roundly dismissed as the economic trigger of the debt crises, which she argues sprang directly from middle class parents trying to find two critically essential things for their children:  good schools and safety.  In the midst of a national education crises and too often random urban crime, both parents were not only forced to work, but also ended up doubling down on inflated house mortgages in the best school districts:  the two-income trap.  Unfortunately, doing so eliminated in the Warrens argument, the historic bench strength of having a reserve worker ready (the wife) that could go to work in a crisis brought on my job loss, medical bills, or family breakups.  Folks were already stretched over the line so tautly that the least twist and they were pulled under.

I can’t say how happy I was to read this book and find out that Elizabeth Warren is fellow traveler on the citizen wealth bus.  I could go on and on, but every once in a while it’s such a pleasure to go back to the first sources and find with total surprise that someone is even better than I could have imagined.

Props to President Obama for stepping up and finding a way for Warren to work in the White House and make the Consumer Financial Protection Agency happen!  The beginnings always prejudice the ends, so she’s in the right space, regardless of whether or not she can run the show.  Better to have a toe smasher than a tiptoe dancer protecting the financial futures of desperate families!

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Debit Charges and Senate Hucksters

Dodd-Frank Bill
Dodd-Frank Bill

New Orleans The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act called for the Federal Reserve to put an end to the debit card surcharge padding when that retailers were paying to banks and credit card companies, usually amounting to 44 cents a transaction.  New Fed proposals would cap the amounts at 7 to 14 cents, about an 80% reduction.  Hooray!

But banks and card issuers are crying like babies at losing this opportunity to scam consumers on the swipe.  Visa lost 10% of its value on the market yesterday.  Bank of America and Wells Fargo record as much as 2.5% of their revenue from this scam, according to the Wall Street Journal.

I love this not only because it is a win for the biscuit cookers, but also given ACORN International’s Remittance Justice Campaign, this is another indication of what at least one authority – the United States Federal Reserve – believes is the actual cost-plus profit of such a transaction.  With enough indirect data, eventually we will understand real costs, not just predatory pricing strategies.

This is also a boost for citizen wealth, if it turns out right:

“A $100 transaction today, for example, means merchants currently pay banks as much as $1.30 in debit interchange fees, according to figures provided by the Nilson Report. Under the proposals, the merchant would pay no more than 12 cents, said David Balto, a fellow with the left-leaning Center for American Progress.”

Hey, let’s have that buck back!

Here’s the head scratcher though, thirteen (13) United States Senators wrote a letter to Fed Chair Bernacke complaining that the card companies and banks were getting stiffed.  I badly want to know who these 13 are, since their names probably comprise something that will be as close as we can come to a list of the Banking and Credit Senators or Anti-Consumer Senators, someone should come up with a better name.  I have to admit to having been foiled even after a half-hour of searching since I was only able to come up with 7 of the 13 names, so anyone who knows speak up:

  • Richard Shelby (R-AL) (Senate Banking Committee)
  • Mark Warner (D-VA) (home state of Capital One!) (Senate Banking)
  • Chris Coons (D-DE) (corporate registry state for many of these companies)
  • Tom Carper (D-DE) (see above)
  • David Vitter (R-LA)  (WTF?)
  • Judd Gregg (R-NH)
  • Evan Bayh (D-IN)  (looking for a goodbye present?)
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